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How military styles went from functional to fashionable

From government-issue threads, these styles now make the rounds of fashion houses and streetwear brands.

Military clothing has always been a resurgent influence in menswear—a fact that’s more evident today, now that tailoring is openly merging with casual style to mesh both comfort and function, as they are both key attributes in military wear.

Military clothing and gear are always appealing as they provide protection against the elements (and the changing times) without compromising on aesthetics. Soldiers have adopted theirs for casual use all throughout the last century mainly for this reason. With designers looking more equally towards function and style, it’s no surprise that they would look at what the military is wearing and integrate it into mainstream fashion.

Here are some personal favorites that I’ve come to love—from movies, runways, and some from either my dad’s or granddad’s closet.

MA-1 Jacket

The MA-1, more commonly known as the bomber jacket, is arguably one of the most storied jackets of all time.

AMI Logo-embroidered denim bomber jacket

The pioneering A-1 model was once the go-to jacket for US Army pilots in the late 1920s: a leather-collared button-down jacket with side pockets along the waist area. Since pilots had open cockpits at the time, the cuffs and waistline were knitted for airflow protection during flights, and the shortened length allowed mobility.

The jacket evolved over time until they arrived at the more familiar MA-1, more commonly made with lightweight nylon, a knitted collar, a zippered front instead of buttons, and the trademark zippered arm pocket.

Regardless of iteration, pilots would adapt the jacket for off-duty wear. A couple of big-screen appearances on the shoulders of no less than Marlon Brando and Steve McQueen further boosted its popularity.

That popularity is now at an all-time high: you can find the jacket in almost every fabric and color available, ranging from the classic minimal designs to brasher printed patterns, produced by almost every brand at every price point.

German Army Trainers

The bundeswehr sportschuhe, more commonly known as the German Army Trainer, is a sneaker with a rich history that I believe only the Dassler brothers can tell accurately.

Maison Margiela replica GAT sneakers

It was intended to be an indoor trainer of the German Army back in the 1970s. With the trademark white leather body, suede toe overlays, and gum sole, the sneaker was known more for its comfort and less for its aesthetic at the time.

Between Adolf and Rudolf Dassler, the once-feuding brothers who founded Adidas and Puma respectively, no one really knows who has claims to the original design. Now, the shoe’s original silhouette is back in demand, rising again to prominence with a ton of unique takes spearheaded by Maison Margiela.

In the last few decades, it surfaced as one of the most influential sneaker designs. Designer brands would either reinterpret the silhouette or use the original design as a template for future innovation.

Safari Jacket

The safari jacket, also known as the bush jacket, is well known for its comfort as lightweight outerwear for warm weather. Originally made during the Second Boer War, it featured epaulets, two to four front pockets, and sometimes a belt: a very practical piece of clothing for the British soldiers stationed in Africa.

nonnative+ Liberty London Hunter Cotton and Linen-Blend Twill Hooded Field Jacket

The jacket has seen its share of the limelight thanks to Prince Charles, Roger Moore (as James Bond), and even comic books as a costume for the Avengers’ Wonder Man. Today, it more commonly serves as a rugged alternate for a blazer in smart casual attire, and it is a streetwear mainstay in Paris and London during the warmer days.

See Also

White Tee

Evolving from the union suit as a separate top, the white tee originally served as the embodiment of the “working American man” and repeatedly came through in different eras riding the personas of different celebrities.

Sunspel Men’s Classic Cotton T-Shirt in White

With such deep commercial history beneath it, people would often overlook that the white tee has similarly deep military roots within the US, dating as far back as the Spanish-American war in the 1890s and as a general uniform for the US Army and Navy in the 1920s. Through WWII and even the Vietnam war, it gained traction as staple casual wear for soldiers. The tee gained more fame in the 1950s after being seen again on Marlon Brando.

Today, the white tee transcends the template for androgynous style—from plain to printed, dressed up or down, it’s the tee that can complete a look done right.

Aviators

These “pilot glasses” are typically associated with the Ray-Ban brand. These glasses were initially designed by Bausch & Lomb as replacements for flight goggles in 1936, emphasizing lightweight, anti-glare, and stylish design.

Mykita x Maison Margiela aviator metal sunglasses

Bausch & Lomb eventually trademarked these as Ray-Bans—the name coming from literally the banishing of rays of light. Though initially meant for pilots, aviators gained popularity across the US Army in WWII, and by now it should be clear what happens with stuff that soldiers love.

There’s not enough room to discuss every military piece that’s made the jump from the bases to our closets. Be they boots, trainers, jackets, or other essential gear, there’s plenty enough to dress for any occasion just as there are enough pockets in the uniforms for every trinket. It just comes down to finding the right fit.

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